In the multi cultural setting, prejudice has become normalized and has synchronized into our daily lives due to the efforts of authorities to harmonized people together. However, given that everyone comes from a very different and diverse background and family situations, there are bound to be misinterpretation and assumptions that we make on a daily basis that is somewhat skewed towards or against a different group. And with the efforts of the authorities to sanction prejudice, it does not necessary mean that prejudice has withered off but instead it may have become an innate thought that has continued on. In this essay we will look into the psychological theories, concepts and researches to understand the continued existence of prejudice and discrimination within each person, even though our modern society views it as undesirable.
The Nature of Prejudice
In a personal context, a person’s behavior towards a certain group of people or people with distinct differences can be due to the social schemas that a person develops with time, through experience and or through social influence. Prejudice can be described as a negative attitude or observable behavior towards a certain socially defined group or members of that group. It is also known as prejudgment, the emotions felt or behavior portrayed cannot be quantified nor can it be justified. Even though in the modern society, prejudice and discrimination are seen as inappropriate or undesirable, it does still exist within each person and they vary in magnitude and severity individually. In this essay, we will cover the psychological theories, concepts and researches to understand the continued existence of prejudice and discrimination within each person, even though our modern society views it as undesirable.
In the research done by Kenneth Clark (1914 -2005), on the effects of prejudice, discrimination and segregation have on child development, he demonstrated the effects by observing the responses of black children, age between two to seven, when they are presented with two sets of dolls, differing only by the dolls skin and hair colors. And from the observation, majority of the participants would prefer the white dolls over the black dolls. Apart from that, the research also showed that thirty nine percent of the participants would choose the white dolls as a representation of themselves. It became apparent that the social norm that children were exposed to pre-defines the definition of being socially desirable and socially undesirable. It also meant to steer individuals towards changing themselves mentally and or physically to become socially desirable in order to belong and fit the social norm. And the idea of being socially desirable and undesirable brings about prejudice and the formation of groups. A classic example and origin of social prejudice can be traced to the social inequalities which suggest and predicts women being assumed to perform better in a caretaker role because they are perceived to be unassertive and sensitive (Hoffman & Hurst, 1990).
The attitude of prejudice can be described as a composite of three factors the influence of social beliefs are seen to cause over generalizing of the behavior of a person and also result in stereotyping. The emotions felt by an individual such as hostility and fear, when a person is found to be in an unfamiliar situation, it predisposes a person to emotionally respond either to feel, think or to act in a way towards a group or an individual when exposed to a certain stimuli in a certain way. The observable actions can be observed through behaviors such as discrimination. Prejudice can also be examined in relation to three factors, the severity of prejudice, the level of discrimination and the formation of beliefs, and stereotyping. These factors make up the basic structure of forming prejudice, as a mental schema that a person can refer to as a guide when situation calls for them. The mental schemas will influence how a person react and interpret the various experiences. And the pre-assumptions or conceived ideas about a certain group of people tend to skew one’s interpretation of the observed behaviors and prediction of future actions of the member of the certain group.
Prejudice can be categorized into two different types, blatant prejudice and subtle prejudice. Blatant prejudice refers to the open rejection of a certain groups or refers to certain groups to be inferior to them. The actions of blatant prejudice can be easily observed and it is usually not withheld. An example of blatant prejudice can come in the form of riots and demonstration against an opposing group or member of that certain group (Pettigrew, 1998).
The other type is subtle prejudice refers to negative emotions felt towards or against the other group or individuals which are usually being disguised or is being hidden behind other values that allow the individual to dislike that certain group in a less direct manner as oppose to blatant prejudice. Some examples of subtle prejudices are the belief that the certain groups are becoming too pushy in wanting more rights than the rest, the denial of discrimination and the resentment of favoritism (Lambert, 1998).
Prejudice can also be unconscious to people who denies having any racial or gender prejudices, that they may still have negative associations linking to the socially defined group or individual. It is illustrated in the research and it had been observed that nine out of ten white participants of the research took longer time to link pleasant words with a black faces than linking pleasant words to white faces (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). It demonstrates that even though individuals do not recognize themselves to be having any stereotypes or discrimination towards a socially defined group or individual, the unconscious behaviors that was observed illustrates that social beliefs and social norms do actually influences a person’s judgment and unconsciously forming prejudice against it.
The other factor that can influence prejudice is the environment that an individual is found to be in. It influences the prejudice behavior of the individual that can either be observed or remains undetected. For example a person will and can act non-prejudiced when the situation that they are in does not require them to. For example, an individual makes a non-prejudiced comment towards a prejudiced behavior, so as to not offend members of the other group. In the same direction, prejudice can also be strengthened in situations where the social norms that govern them are either weak or ambiguous and it becomes justifiable and deemed acceptable for negative behavior towards the socially defined group or individual.
In social psychology there have been many theories formulated to define the formulation of prejudice. There is the Psychodynamic or personality approach according to Freud, prejudice is seen as a response to an unresolved conflict during the stages of child development. He refers it to as a combination of personality characteristics and that the incompatible and unconscious motives and urges which exist in our minds and depending on our relative strength, moral values and external reality either one of the motives and urges will dictate the conscious thoughts and actions (Freud, 1917).
The socio-cultural approach suggests that the cultural factors influences and creates social norms which plays an important role as to how a person is predisposed to results in formation of prejudiced view of the certain group or individual. A theory derived from this is the scapegoat theory which suggests that prejudice can also be an expression of anger such that when things go wrong, the scapegoat will provide a convenient emotional outlet and target for this anger which manipulates and influence people to create a common goal for the group (Katz, Glass, & Cohen, 1973).
The cognitive approach refers to the information processing and cognitive systems of the brain where prejudice arises out of normal mental processes, which can be explain through stereotyping and categorization. Social categorization and stereotyping refers to the formulation of illusionary relation between a certain group and the perceived deficiencies. They also categorize people into certain groups and that they are categorized based on the social norms or traits they are associated with the others in the same group. People tend to favor those that are within their group than those people that are not within the group. Social categories are formed with association to stereotyping when we encode information in terms of social categories. Social categories are ingrained in a person that it is easily accessible and prominently that they are automatically used in social perception. The need to belong, dictates humans as group bound species in the search attain an identity of self when belonging to a group. This is associated with the negative out-group stereotypes and positive in-group stereotypes that the group which means to be mentally differentiating and defining the grouping of us and them which also leads to people showing favoritism to their own group when dividing any rewards (Wilder, 1981) .
Stereotyping provides general expectations about a certain group and it simplifies perception and evaluation of the individual members. Stereotype can affect the type of information that the brain is attending to and how it is being interpreted, they are easily accessible, and prominent that it can automatically be used in social perception to reduce ambiguity during critical situations. The generalization are guided by two elements, the trait information concerning what people of the certain group are like and the expectation of how this group of people will act. Stereotyping is not easy to be modified and acts can easily and automatically trigger stereotyping. It will have an impact on the effects on a person’s behavior and results in unintentional self-fulfilling prophecies and implicit behavioral effects (Mackie, Hamilton, Susskind, & Rosselli, 1996).
The most researched common stereotype is sexism, where males are more than always perceived and commonly linked to stronger traits and attributes and on the flip side, females are often perceived and linked to weaker traits (Fiske, 1998). This stereotype originates from the prejudicial perspective that females are valued lesser than males, which can be traced back in history that males had all along been the breadwinner and females plays the caregiver role and thus resulting in the stereotype of women represents weakness and are better in taking up a more subtle role.
Another typical stereotype that is relative to us would be racism, which refers to discrimination against an individual on the basis of the individual’s race. It is often being generalized that people from the same race shares the same set of characteristic traits like abilities and qualities. And that personality trait such as intellect, morality, and other cultural behavioral characteristics are also inherited which in turn influence their reason to act, their practices and their beliefs. However, there are little or no scholarly evidence that agrees with the concept of race. The generalization forms an unintentional discrimination and stereotype towards a certain group and that people tend to make assumptions based on this stereotype. Racism assumption also includes discriminatory behaviors and beliefs that can be based on cultural, ethnic, or religious stereotypes.
The relationship between stereotyping and prejudice can be explained through the dissociation model (Devine, 1989). Where stereotyping is the knowledge about the attributes stereotypically associated with a particular group and it is automatically activated with stimulus and it can be acquired as early as during child development before we can critically evaluate. And that it is more accessible with greater activation and stronger association overtime. Whereas, prejudice refers to the endorsement and acceptance or non-acceptance of the cultural stereotype and that activation of prejudice is known to be controlled and that activation must be with the inhibition of stereotype and it requires time and cognitive capacity. The research shows that both high and low prejudice persons has equal knowledge of the cultural stereotype. Also, both high and low prejudice person uses stereotyping to evaluate ambiguous behaviors. And that low prejudiced person exhibited more positive thoughts, beliefs and less hostile descriptions. The dissociation model concludes that the relationship between stereotype and prejudice is conditional on the task at hand and that stereotype can have effects on out decision without us making the explicit or conscious judgment (Devine, 1989).
Social discrimination and prejudice can create a vicious cycle that entraps the individual or group within an illusionary boundary that is hard to get out from. An example of this cycle can originate from as simple as job discrimination, which determines how much wealth a person has and in turn determines the living environment of the person. The living environment also determines the level of education that the children will receive and thus affect the kind of job they will hold in the future, which sets them in a material disadvantage. And the types of discrimination also include reluctance to help, tokenism which refers to intentionally create a false appearance of inclusiveness and to deflect accusations of discrimination and reverse discrimination (Vaughan & Hogg, 2011). And the victims of prejudice can also suffer from psychological disadvantages, low self-esteem, and depressed aspiration, and also include physical and verbal abuses. And the consequences of prejudice can range from the least serious type like pre-assumption and prediction of an individual’s behavior from the certain group, to open discrimination of the certain group which could lead to violence against the group and ultimately, extermination of the group and its members such as the holocaust.
It is then apparent that prejudicial behavior are almost inevitable for any individual given the different backgrounds and culture everyone had been brought up in, and the acquisition prejudice may well have happened even before we can comprehend anything. Which results in prejudice both conscious and unconsciously in the decisions that we make in our daily life. Therefore, society plays an important role to sanction and subdue any overwhelming prejudice against any social discrimination, and that every individual should make a conscious effort to avoid taking advantage of it as a vehicle for personal gains. And that even though many would publicly deny as having any stereotype or prejudice against someone, prejudice has always been an innate thought process that can and has influence our behaviors externally.